The new trend in cutting-edge museums: the Green Museum.
Museums operate on certain key principles: stewardship, preservation and education. Naysayers might argue that ‘green’ might not fit with a museum’s mission- art preservation, child education, historic portrayal- and yet on further exploration, it becomes glaringly apparent that sustainability slots in seamlessly with every facet of museum administration.
Stewardship encompasses more than just preservation of our collections, but preservation of our environment in general. We have an obligation to preserve the past and the present for future generations: how are we to do that if we have no future and are destroying the present? If museums- forums for education, bastions of higher knowledge and role models for society- allow our natural world to go to waste, for whom are they preserving their precious collections?
Museums are by nature institutions for the public, and as such they are realizing that they need to respond to the increasing interest in global sustainability, because if they are not furthering the interests of their public, why do they continue to exist? As immense archives of research and discovery, museums should and do feel obligated to share their vast oceans of information with a willing public, a public that appears on their doorsteps day after day hungry to be taught by the institutions in which they place their trust.
Moreover, many museums and historic buildings operate as non-profits, on tight budgets supplemented by grants and foundations. It is in their interests to be as efficient as possible- they have far better causes on which to spend their money than wasteful energy, water and gas bills. In order to maintain positive relations with the patrons, foundations and benefactors that support them, museums must prove firstly, they have their interests at heart, and secondly, they are using their money as efficiently and effectively as possible- not losing it through poor insulation and wasteful practices.
Preservation of our natural planet. Stewardship of the environment for future generations. Education about needs to be, and can be done by individual members of the public. Nothing could be simpler.
The Ultimate Green Museum
You may have heard about the recent renovation of the California Academy of Sciences. The high tech, multi-million dollar museum, originally founded in 1853, was reopened with its new building in 2008, and was immediately lauded as an innovation in green design integrating form and function.
This Platinum certified LEED building boasts, among other things: 60,000 PV cells, 2.5 acres of green roof, the use of recycled rainwater for irrigation and over 90% of natural light usage in all occupied spaces. The building has cut down 50% of its water usage, and its construction included 20,000 pounds of recycled concrete and 11 million pounds of recycled steel.
The museum runs popular education programs and uses its building’s features (like their recycled denim insulated walls) as a learning tool for school groups and visitors. It’s a strong example of an institution whose science focus and access to a large capital campaign has allowed it to embrace sustainability easily and thoroughly.
Don’t assume, though, that green is restricted to multi-million dollar science centres- museums of all sizes and disciplines have been embracing sustainability as part of their mission and obligation to their communities. Stay tuned for examples of unexpected institutions which are sustainably-minded and have managed to weave their green focus thoughtfully into their internal and external operations.
For more information, consult “The Green Museum” by Elizabeth Wylie, and Sarah Brophy